U.S. supreme court sticks to the strict meaning of patent infringement

FacebookTwitterGoogle+PinterestLinkedInRedditEmail

There’s good news in the U.S. supreme court’s unanimous decision this week to toss out a patent infringement lawsuit brought by Akamai against a competing content delivery network, Limelight.

The court declined to open a vast new frontier for patent troll claims. Akamai, of course, isn’t a troll – it uses its patented technology to good effect – but it was trying to make the case that a partial (and thus, under law, allowable) duplication of a method it developed was actually an infringement because Limelight told customers how to complete the missing steps themselves. That was no different, Akamai said, than if it had been copied whole in the first place.

Lower courts bought that argument, but fortunately the supreme court disagreed. In the decision, Samuel Alito wrote

A method patent claims a number of steps; under this Court’s case law, the patent is not infringed unless all the steps are carried out…(a “patent covers only the totality of the elements in the claim and … no element, separately viewed, is within the grant”). This principle follows ineluctably from what a patent is: the conferral of rights in a particular claimed set of elements.

Had Akamai’s position been upheld, then the predatory bar could have gone wild and brought lawsuits against any two or more companies or consumers that were doing things that, taken together, looked anything like a patent – dubious or not – held by a troll.

There was no dissent or alternate views offered: the nine justices – left wing to right wing – spoke as one.

About Steve Blum

Steve Blum is president of Tellus Venture Associates, a management, planning and business development consultancy for municipal and community broadband initiatives. He is a 30-year industry veteran and an expert in developing new broadband infrastructure and services, including wireless, fiber optic and satellite systems.

His career includes playing key roles in the launch and growth of DirecTv in the U.S., as well as other satellite broadcasting platforms around the world. For the past ten years, he has helped build municipal wireless and fiber optic broadband systems. His client list includes many California cities, such as San Leandro, Palo Alto, Oakland, Los Angeles, Lompoc and Folsom. He’s a member of the executive team for the Central Coast Broadband Consortium and has worked with other regional consortia in California.

Steve is the author of seven books on the Internet and satellite broadcasting and is a frequent contributor to professional journals and industry events. He holds an A.B. in History from the University of California, Berkeley, an M.A. in East Asia Studies from the University of Washington, and an M.B.A. from the University of St. Thomas. He is a triathlete and multiple Ironman finisher, and is currently ranked in the top 100 of the Challenge Triathlon world rankings, out of more than 30,000 athletes.